Thursday, June 30, 2011

France Armed Western Army in Libya

The mystery of the rebel army that emerged in western Libya and successfully has made a push to within about 50 miles southwest of Tripoli appears to have been solved: France secretly armed the rebel force with airdrops in the Nafusa Mountains.

"Large amounts" of automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles, along with food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies, were parachuted to the force earlier this month, according to multiple reports that cited the French newspaper Le Figaro.

"There were humanitarian drops because the humanitarian situation was worsening and at one point it seemed the security situation was threatening civilians who could not defend themselves," French armed forces spokesman Thierry Burkhard told Reuters.

"France therefore also sent equipment allowing them to defend themselves, comprising light weapons and munitions," he said, adding that the drop in early June had included medicine and food.

The newly formed rebel army out of western Libya is the only opposition force that is currently on the march. The main rebel army in eastern Libya remains hung up near Ajdabiya, while the rebel brigades that pushed Gadhafi loyalists out of Misurata have not had much success moving east toward Triploli.

Rebel Transitional National Council Chairman Mahmoud Jibril said at a news conference in Vienna today that arming the opposition force would help avoid casualties against the better-equipped forces still loyal to Moammar Gadhafi.

"Giving them weapons we will be able decide the battle more quickly, so that we can shed as little blood as possible. Because the less blood we shed the faster we can think of the future and the more we can protect the Libyan people," Jibril said.

But a rebel military commander claimed to not know anything of the French arms being airdropped.

"Whoever gave us these arms should come here and tell us where he put them," Col. Mokhtar Milad Fernana,  commander of the rebel fighting forces, told The Los Angeles Times.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen indicated today in Vienna that France was acting alone and not as part of the air campaign. The alliance will determine whether France violated any NATO or United Nations rules by arming the rebels.

The French are not apologizing.

S&P, Moody's Will Lower U.S. Credit Rating Over Debt Limit

Standard & Poors would downgrade the AAA U.S. credit rating to a failing grade  if Congress and the White House do not break an impasse and reach a deal on raising the federal debt ceiling in the next month.

"If the U.S. government misses a payment, it goes to D," John Chambers, chairman of S & P’s sovereign rating committee, told Reuters. "That would happen right after August 4, when the bills mature, because they don't have a grace period."

Rival credit-rating service Moody's said it will also lower its credit rating if the U.S. fails to raise its debt limit.

“We believe the debt ceiling will be raised and the government won’t default,” Chambers told Bloomberg. “Otherwise we wouldn’t have a AAA rating on the U.S. government. It’s evolving as we expected."

The warning from the Wall Street credit watchdogs came as President Obama said he wants a balanced set of budget cuts and corporate tax loopholes eliminated as part of the package aimed at beginning to reduce the $14.3 billion federal debt.

GOP House Speaker John Boehner quickly indicated he intends to protect the corporate tax breaks, even though the White House only intends to target hugely profitable industries that it says can afford  to end the tax boondoggle.

Globally, the austerity movement moves to Britain,  which faces a strike today over cuts to public pension plans. Workers of the world unite! "Remember when teachers, nurses, doctors & lollipop ladies crashed the stock market, wiped out banks, took billions in bonuses and paid no tax? Me neither. Support the strikes against the government," Tweeted British shop owner Bristol Green.

Greece, meanwhile, is quiet today after two days of violent clashes between protesters and police in Athens. Tear-gas clouds appear to have given way to clear skies after the Greek parliament approved a five-year package that will prevent Greece from defaulting on a loan payment next week to the International Monetary Fund and EU.

Greek authorities are cautious, however, since a plan on how to implement the $40 billion austerity program is expected to be approved in parliament today.

Amercans Support Afghan Drawdown; Fewer Fear Terror Attack

A majority of Americans are not afraid that withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan will open up the United States to terrorist attacks, the Gallup poll reports.

Some 55% of Americans say they are not worried about terrorist attacks as a result of President Obama's plan to begin the drawdown, an increase from the 43% who said they did not fear a terrorist attack back in December 2009, when the President first announced his intent to start withdrawing troops in 2011, the survey indicated.

"Though Americans remain supportive of the war effort in Afghanistan, they appear ready to wind down the war, given the broad support for Obama's plan for withdrawal and a belief by most that the U.S. has accomplished its mission there," Gallup analyst Jeffrey Jones wrote.

"Though many who argue for continuing the war effort cite the possibility of increased vulnerability of the U.S. to terrorist attack as justification, a majority of Americans do not share that concern," Jones concluded.

Obama's address to the nation last week failed to give him a bump in job approval, but Americans overwhelming support his plan to begin withdrawing U.S. forces in Afghanistan this year, Gallup reports.

Asked about the plan that calls for about 30,000 troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of next summer, with the remainder out by 2014, some 72%, of Americans are in favor, while 23% are opposed, the poll showed.

Americans favor the withdrawal  plan across the political spectrum -- even more Republicans favor it than oppose it, the survey showed.

More Americans -- 43% say  pulling out the 30,00 troops (it is actually closer to 33,000, according to the Obama plan) is about right, while 29% call it too low, and 19% too high.

However, the timetable for troop withdrawal is where the support gets fewer cheers -- 30% of Americans say the timetable is about right, 33% say it should happen soon, while 31% say there should be no timetable at all.

The party line breakdown over the timetable is predictable, with more Democrats with Obama, followed, in diminishing order, by Independent voters and Republicans.

Then survey is good news for the White House, but the positive reaction to the withdrawal plan does not translate into a bump in Obama's job approval rating.

The new Gallup poll suggests he succeeded in satisfying public opinion, with 72% of Americans broadly in favor of his plan. Yet, scratching beneath the surface, the poll also suggests he did not go far enough to fully satisfy Democrats' and independents' desire for a swift withdrawal," Gallup analyst Lydia Saad writes.

"This may partly explain Obama's lagging job approval rating over the past 10 days, or at least why his June 22 speech announcing his 'way forward in Afghanistan' did not help to raise it out of the mid-40s," Saad explained.

And, of course, even though Gallup does not cite it as reason, everything Obama does now is seen through the prism of the economy first.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

You Would Think Bachmann Would Know the Adams Family

Rep. Michelle Bachmann is having a tough time sticking to the script in her bid for the Republican nomination for President.

A day after she confused the actor John Wayne with the serial killer John Wayne Gacy, the Minnesota Republican was at it again, this time mixing up John Quincy Adams with his father John Adams.

The newly crowned queen of the Tea Party made the gaff when she defended to ABC's George Stephanopoulos her statement that the Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery.

"Well if you look at one of our Founding Fathers, John Quincy Adams, that’s absolutely true. He was a very young boy when he was with his father serving essentially as his father’s secretary. He tirelessly worked throughout his life to make sure that we did in fact one day eradicate slavery," Bachmann said.

Stephanopoulos responded, "He wasn’t one of the Founding Fathers – he was a President, he was a Secretary of State, he was a member of Congress, you’re right he did work to end slavery decades later. But so you are standing by this comment that the Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery?"

Bachmann retorted, "Well, John Quincy Adams most certainly was a part of the Revolutionary War era. He was a young boy but he was actively involved."

This is at least the second time Bachmann flubbed an issue related to the Revolutionary War era. The first coming when she suggested the "shot heard 'round the world" was fired in New Hampshire as opposed to Massachusetts, where of course it was fired.

But Bachmann is not the only Tea Party celebrity who does not know her Revolutionary war-era history. The woman Bachmann deposed as the queen of the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, recently suggested that Paul Revere in his historic ride to warn that "the British are coming" did so to warn the British.

Is it too much to ask that people associated with something called the Tea Party actually know what was going on during the era of the actual Boston Tea Party?

Obama Works Court of Public Opinion On Debt Fight

Updated 2:45 p.m. edt

It appears the White House heard Sen. Bernie Sanders' plea for applying some shared sacrifice in the contentious debate over deficit reduction.

President Obama is urging Congress to take a balanced approach in trying to reduce the national debt, saying cuts in spending need to be offset by revenue created by eliminating tax loopholes for profitable corporations.

"I don't think that's real radical," Obama said at a White House news conference today. "I think the majority of Americans agree with that."

Unrelenting Republicans have said they refuse to give an inch on the tax breaks for big business, instead demanding that programs -- many of which benefit middle class Americans -- should be cut to reduce the $14.3 trillion national debt.

But laying down his marker in the showdown with the GOP, Obama argued that without removing tax breaks for hedge fund owners, oil and gas companies or corporate jets it may mean taking scholarships away from college students, cutting back on medical research and curtailing health care for the elderly.

"If everybody else is willing to take on their sacred cows and do tough things in order to achieve the goal of real deficit reduction, then I think it would be hard for the Republicans to stand there and say that, 'The tax break for corporate jets is sufficiently important that we're not willing to come to the table and get a deal done,' or, 'We're so concerned about protecting oil and gas subsidies for oil companies that are making money hand over fist, that's the reason we're not going to come to a deal,'" Obama said.

"I don't think that's a sustainable position," he added.

Obama went so far as to suggest that if lawmakers cannot reach a deal on the debt limit then they should cancel their vacation and finish the job. The hard deadline for raising the ceiling on the federal debt is Aug. 2, otherwise the government will begin to default on some of its loans, likely causing chaos in the financial markets.

"They're in one week. They're out one week. And then they're saying, 'Obama's got to step in,'" Obama said. "You need to be here. I've been here. I've been doing Afghanistan and bin Laden and the Greek crisis and -- you stay here. Let's get it done."

Asked about closing the tax loopholes for corporate America as part of a deficit reduction package, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) responded that the federal tax code should be changed.

"And by the way, tax expenditures are not loopholes. They've been put in there, in many respects, you know, for very good reasons, and we've got to be very, very careful in what we do there," Hatch said.


It is back to the bully pulpit today for President Obama, who will try to one-up Republicans in their face-off over lifting the federal debt limit before an early August deadline.

Obama and the Democrats are insisting that slashing the federal budget to the tune of at least $1 trillion is not enough to begin to corral the more than $14.3 trillion debt.

Obama wants to open a revenue stream, preferably by closing tax loopholes for hugely profitable corporations like the oil and gas industries that are banking billions in profits while Americans get squeezed at the gas pump.

Another cost-cutting idea being floated is raising the age for Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67. There also has been discussion of making the super-rich pay for their own health care costs.

Stubborn GOP lawmakers say tax increases of any kind are a non-starter, but Obama will try to make his case  at a White House news conference later this morning.

Maybe Afghanistan Isn't Going That Well, After All?

Updated at 3 p.m. edt

President Obama insists "the tide of war is receding," in Afghanistan, but admits there will still be some attacks like today's Taliban suicide mission at the Inter-Continental hotel in Kabul that killed 18 people.

"We understood that Afghanistan is a dangerous place, that the Taliban is still active, and that there is still going to be events like this on occasion," Obama told a White House news conference.

"And that will probably go on for some time. Our work is not done," he added.

end update

President Obama will likely face questions at a news conference today on just how much progress has really be made in the war in Afghanistan after a  brazen suicide attack on the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul left 18 people dead — including all eight attackers.

Two police officers were among the dead.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai blamed the attack on "mercenary terrorists who enjoy the bloodletting of innocent human beings." 

NATO helicopters with Special Forces aboard were called in to take out the heavily armed Taliban gunman who were positioned on the roof of the hotel that is frequented by diplomats and other Western officials. The attack helicopters killed at least three of the gunmen.

Afghan forces swept through the hotel, going room-to-room, floor-by-floor during nearly five-hour firefight  looking for the Taliban gunmen, who were armed with rocket-propelled grenades, rifles, and explosive suicide vests.

The attack came just days after Obama declared gains had been made in the war and announced some 33,000 U.S. troops would be pulled from Afghanistan through next year.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Looming Financial Crisis: Greek Tragedy at Home & Abroad

The White House still thinks a compromise can be worked out over raising the debt ceiling.

“We believe there is the opportunity here for a substantial compromise on a significant deficit reduction agreement that is done in a way that is balanced, allows the economy to continue to grow and create jobs even as we get our fiscal house in order," White House spokesman Jay Carney said today.

President Obama met behind closed doors with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell last night, but there was no give in the impasse over the Republican's refusal to increase revenues through tax hikes by closing tax loopholes.

Obama's often-ignored left-leaning base voters would like to see revenues raised by wiping out tax breaks for the oil industry and companies that send American jobs overseas. 

"They agreed to continue talking. It was a useful meeting and their consultations will continue with the President, with the Vice President, with others on our team, with leaders of Congress and members of the negotiating team in Congress," Carney said.

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the self-styled socialist lawmaker, blasted the President, charging that Obama is going sell out working families, the elderly and poor by caving to the Republicans. Sanders is asking Americans to sign onto a petition he is sending to the White House.

"Mr. President, please listen to the overwhelming majority of the American people who believe that deficit reduction must be about shared sacrifice. The wealthiest Americans and the most profitable corporations in this country must pay their fair share," Sanders wrote in a a letter to Obama posted on his website.

With a little more than a month before the deadline, the U.S. national debt stands at more than $14.3 trillion. Obama will host Senate Democrats tomorrow to plot their strategy moving forward.

Across the ocean all hell is breaking loose over the same issue.

About 20,000 protesters, a handful lobbing molotov cocktails, tried to penetrate a 4,000-man human shield around the Greek parliament in Athens today to protest proposed government cutbacks and top-to-bottom tax hikes.

This Greek tragedy came at the start of a two-day national strike protesting a new round of national austerity reforms. Greece's parliament has a vote scheduled for tomorrow on the $40 billion package.

Greece has a $17 billion interest payment due next week on the a $156 billion bailout loan from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

If it defaults there are widespread fears that it could trigger a global economic catastrophe on par with the one Wall Street and the banking industry gave the world in the summer of 2008.

Pawlenty Goes Chicken Hawk Two Weeks After Being Chicken

GOP  presidential hopeful Tim  Pawlenty accused President Obama of failing in his words, "to carry out an effective and coherent strategy in response" to the uprisings in the Middle East and Northern Africa, known as the "Arab Spring."

Apparently seeking to carry the neocon mantle in the Republican field, Pawlenty accused the President of treating Israel "as a problem, rather than as an ally."

The attacks on the Obama administration's foreign policy came during an address today before the Council on Foreign Relations.

It was tough talk for the former Minnesota governor, who just two weeks ago in the first New Hampshire GOP presidential debate embraced an isolationist foreign policy position, calling for fewer interventions abroad. What a difference a couple of weeks makes.

Pawlenty also refused to mix it up with Mitt Romney over what he had called "ObamaneyCare" -- a too-cute attack that sought to link the health care reforms implemented in Massachusetts by then-Gov. Romney and last year by Obama.

Obama admittedly was late to siding with the revolutionaries in Egypt and Libya, but he has more than made up with his commitment to doing all he can to prop up the pro-democracy freedom movement.

The President, meanwhile, is in Iowa today discussing incentives for creating new manufacturing jobs, the Holy Grail of the U.S. economy. He is at an ALCOA plant in eastern Iowa that makes components for jumbo jets. 

And the President isn't the only big-name politician in the state. Maybe wouild-be GOP presidential candidate Sarah Palin is there too Palin, about 150 miles from Obama, to attend the premiere of "The Undefeated," a sappy documentary about her time as governor of Alaska and her ascent to the GOP's vice presidential nominee in 2008.

Three U.S. Nuke Plants At Risk to Wildfire and Floods

Anti-nuclear activists are having the biggest "We told you so moment" since the earthquake and tsunami caused a meltdown at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors earlier this spring as Mother Nature puts scare intro three U.S. nuclear facilities.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico will be closed for a second day today as a raging wildfire remains a threat, while floodwaters from the Missouri River are keeping two nuclear power plants under siege in Nebraska.

As of now authorities in both states say the natural disasters do no pose a threat to the public at any of the three nuclear facilities.

About 12,000 people have been evacuated from the area surrounding Los Alamos nuclear weapons testing and developments facility since Sunday, authorities said. The site was home to the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb in 1945.

"No other fires are currently burning on lab property, no facilities face immediate threat, and all nuclear and hazardous materials are accounted for and protected," the Los Alamos National Laboratory  said in a statement.

The combination of brisk winds and scorching hot weather are the main concerns at this point  for firefighters battling the blaze around the lab. 

The Las Conchas fire burned across nearly 44,000 acres and came within about a mile from the lab last night. A one-acre spot fire ignited on  lab land, but was knocked down by airborne firefighters, CNN reported.

"Air crews dumped water at the site within the Lab's Technical Area 49 and brought the blaze under control," a statement from the lab said.

In Nebraska, workers at the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant raised catwalks to access the facility after two feet of  water surrounded the site. The floodwater has not reached any radioactive materials, the utility company said. An 8-foot temporary berm protecting the plant collapsed over the weekend.

"There is no possibility of a meltdown," the Omaha Public Power District's CEO Gary Gates told The Associated Press. "The floodwaters are outside of Fort Calhoun, not inside."

The biggest threat is a loss of power that would keep the plants from cooling the nuclear materials, triggering a meltdown, as was the case in Japan.  There are at least nine backup power sources in place in Nebraska, including two diesel generators.

The other threat to public safety are lies and deceptions, as was also the case in Japan as the utility company's executives continuously lowballed the thereat of radioactivity.

"Not everything is fine," said Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s energy program. "We’re inches away from a nuclear plant being flooded. It’s already an island. And we still have a very real possibility of flood levels rising."

Slocum told The Progressive, "There’s always the possibility of the situation escalating, especially when we don’t control all the variables. That’s what happened in Japan."

Floodwaters are slowly creeping toward the Cooper nuclear power  plant, but that facility sits on higher ground and the wrath of Missouri River so far is being kept at bay.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Report: Germany Will Provide Missiles to NATO In Libya

The well-trained German military still has no plans to join the air campaign in Libya, but Berlin is expected to provide guided missiles and their delivery systems to help take some of the financial pressure off allies flying combat missions, according to Spiegel Online.

It was seen as a much-needed gesture of support for the alliance, ending a streak of bad news about NATO fracturing over the Libya campaign. 

Defense Minister Thomas de Maziere's decision to kick in the weapons also may score some points for Germany, which has been on the sidelines during the air campaign.

Berlin isolated itself when it became the only NATO member to abstain on a United Nations vote authorizing the  no-fly zone over Libya to protect civilians from Moammar Gadhafi's ruthless force. Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert gets aimed much of his anger over NATO members' complacency at Germany in his testy final public address earlier this month.

What should be remembered, as President Obama has noted, is that Germany has 5,000 troops in Afghanistan.

Germany's policy of pacifism after World War II is slowly giving way, but an air campaign in North Africa was seen by some government officials in Berlin as too much, too soon and could have given Gadhafi a powerful propaganda tool.

There are still memories in Libya of Nazi Germany's Africa Corps and its Panzer tanks rolling over most of the country under the command of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel.

No Incentive for Gadhafi to Leave Libya Amid Criminal Charges

The International Criminal Court threw a wrench in back-channel talks to get Moammar Gadhafi and his family to leave Libya by issuing arrest warrants today for the dictator, his son Saif al-Islam and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanussi.

Gadhafi is accused of ordering attacks on civilians during Libya's four-month revolution, which began as a peaceful Arab Spring protest, but turned into an  armed insurrection when Gadhafi's forces and secret police opened fire on demonstrators.

"(Gadhafi) aimed at deterring and quelling by any means, including by the use of force, the demonstrations of civilians against the regime", the court alleged.

His son Saif and Sanussi are accused of carrying out the orders to open fire on the Libyan demonstrators from Feb. 15 to at least Feb 28. Thousands of Libyans are believed to have been slaughtered under Gadhafi's orders.

Gadhafi's spokesman said over the weekend the regime does not recognize the ICC and will ignore the charges.

In an unusual twist, diplomatic sources from NATO-member nations said the ICC at The Hague clearly did the right thing by charging the trio with crimes against humanity, but acknowledged the court probably wiped out some incentive for Gadhafi to leave Libya.

The rebels have said they are willing to consider a plan to get Gadhafi and his family to leave government, but remain in Libya under a sort of house arrest in-country exile.

The diplomatic sources, who spoke this morning after the ruling on the condition of anonymity, said the alliance does not like that idea, but acknowledged it may have to swallow that pill.

Publicly NATO welcomed the court's action. "It reinforces the reason for Nato's mission to protect the Libyan people from Gadhafi's forces," said NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh  Rasmussen.

Closer to home, the warrants give President Obama some much-needed cover with peacenik House  Democrats, who have joined with conservative Republicans  in arguing the administration has failed to make the case against joining the NATO-led air campaign.

At the outset, Obama joined the two biggest U.S. allies, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain and Nicolas Sarkozy of France, in arguing that the air strikes were necessary to prevent a genocidal slaughter in the city of Benghazi, where Gadhafi's troops had massed in March.

Gadhafi had publicly threatened to wipe out the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, which has since become the de facto capital for the Transitional national Council. Led by French warplanes, the alliance struck March 19, wiping out the armored column outside Benghazi.

"We are extremely happy that the whole world has united in prosecuting Gaddafi for the crimes he has committed," rebel council spokesman Jalal al-Galal told Reuters. "The people feel vindicated by such a response."

Rebels on 'Third Front' Move Within 50 Miles of Tripoli

Rebels battling on Libya's western front claim they have moved to just outside the town of Bair al-Ghanam only about 50 miles from Tripoli after a string of victories in the Nafusa Mountains.

On paper, the western offensive is part of a potential pincer movement to take Tripoli, but the other army required to pull off the maneuver is hung up in the east, mainly massed in Ajdabiya.

A third front exists in rebel-held Misurata, where at least two lightly armed brigades have taken the city but may not have the troops to pull off a 100-mile march without linking up with the larger force toy the east.

The latest fighting comes amid back-channel talks between surrogates for the rebels and Gadhafi that are most likely doomed to fail unless Moammar Gadhafi and his family agree to step down and leave government. Gadhafi made another offer to hold elections, but the rebels and NATO again rejected the idea as being too little too late.

The Nafusa Mountains campaign does not get much attention, but the rebel forces in recent weeks have been pushing Gadhafi forces back towards Tripoli.

Communications among the organized fighters as well as the Tripoli underground have been difficult. The rebel groups are not organizing via the Internet or text messaging as the earlier revolutionaries in Tunesia and Libya.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

NATO Strikes and Defecting Soccer Stars Pump Up Rebels

NATO bombed a military staging area in Brega and some of the country's top soccer stars joined the opposition overnight, giving Libyan rebels a much much-needed boost in morale.

Alliance warplanes targeted one of Moammar Gadhafi's depots for vehicles and equipment in Brega used to launch attacks on the admittedly stalled rebel army in Eastern Libya, Reuters reported.

"What we know is that the buildings we hit were occupied and used by pro-Gaddafi forces to direct attacks against civilians around Ajdabiya," a NATO official said.

The Gadhafi regime claimed 15 civilians were killed in the attack, but the NATO source said there was no evidence of that. Insisting that civilians are being killed is almost a daily routine for the regime. The allies regretfully admitted civilians were collateral damage in a strike in Tripoli last week, and the Gadhafi propaganda machine knows how unpopular those errant hits have become.

"Unlike the pro-Gadhafi forces, we go to great lengths to reduce the possibility of any civilian casualties," the NATO official said.

But it was news of members of the Libyan national soccer team defecting over to the rebel side that was the talk in the opposition camp.

Adel bin Issa, the coach of Tripoli's top club al-Ahly, national team star goalie Juma Gtat and 17 other soccer players -- some of the biggest Libyan sports heroes in the top sport in the world -- jumped over to the rebel side and quickly called for an end to the Gadhafi regime.

"I am telling (Gadhafi) leave us alone and allow us to create a free Libya," Gtat told the BBC. "In fact I wish he would leave this life altogether."

The rebels are not the only folks who are in need of good news: The fracturing NATO alliance is also looking for something to cheer about. Military analysts attribute an increase in reports from Britain, France the U.S. that Gadhafi's days are numbered to a concerted effort to keep the alliance of NATO and Arab states intact.

Norway is bailing out on the Libya campaign in a little more than a month and Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini shook up the alliance when he called for a suspension of air strikes after the accidental bombing of civilians when the missile malfunctioned last week in Tripoli. Many other countries, including Canada, whose combat planes are essential to operation, have committed until Sept. 1.

Well-equipped Germany remains on the sidelines and Turkey refuses to join the combat missions (in fairness the Turks now have their hands full with its former ally Syria and is moving an army to the border where refugees are massing).

In one report, The Wall Street Journal claimed yesterday that Gadhafi is scared and wants to leave Tripoli. If true, that would be welcomed by NATO. The alliance would love to get Gadhafi out in the open, but as my colleague Geoff Holtzman at Talk Radio News Service reported experts are skeptical.

"The Americans are trying to create the perception that the mission is almost accomplished, and that if people can just hang on a little bit longer, then they will successfully accomplish their goal of regime change by assassinating Gadhafi," said Bayless Parsley, North African analyst for the global intelligence service, STRATFOR.

"If someone put out an International Criminal Court warrant for your arrest, would you leave the country?" Parsley said. "Would you trust that any foreign government wouldn’t simply hand you over to The Hague at some point down the line?"

Friday, June 24, 2011

House GOP Leaders Embarrassed in 'Sure-Thing' Libya Vote

Updated at 7 p.m. edt

The Republican sponsor of the failed House bill that would have defunded the NATO mission in Libya is falling on his own sword, taking the blame for the measure's defeat.

"It was my bill. You can blame me," an apologetic Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) told Fox News. "I think we tried to limit funds so our kids weren't in harm's way but not leave NATO on their own. People either wanted all or they wanted nothing. Now we are back to square one."

Some 89 Republicans voted against the measure.

It was an embarrassing defeat for the majority party in the Republican-controlled House because it detracted from the victory that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) pulled off by defeating a resolution that would have authorized the Libya operation for a year.

end update

An anticipated slam-dunk vote today in the House on a GOP measure to cut funding for the NATO air campaign in Libya turned into an in-your-face rejection when the measure was shockingly defeated.

The vote was 238-180 in opposition of the legislation to cut off money for the air campaign and bar the U.S. from launching drone attacks and airstrikes in the NATO-led campaign.

The embarrassed GOP House leadership claimed it did not conduct a whip count -- the tally of support that is usually done ahead of a contentious vote.

Earlier, however, the House voted as expected to reject a non-binding resolution allowing the U.S. to conduct military operations in Libya for one year. It also barred the U.S. from deploying ground forces, but that is a non-issue since President Obama has said from the start there would be no boots on the ground.

Despite an 11th-hour plea from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, some 70 Democrats split with Obama in the  295-123 vote that denied support for the air campaign. The vote came as a new poll today shows more Americans are now opposed to the Libya mission.

House members are miffed that Obama has decided the Libya campaign does not fall under the War Powers resolution of 1973 because it does not amount to "hostilities," since, as the President argues, the U.S. is only providing support to NATO at this point.

The War Powers resolution requires a President to consult Congress when the U.S. goes to war within a couple of months after the hostilities commence.

The House-approved resolution is expected to die in the Senate, where a powerful bipartisan coalition led by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are set to approve a year-long air campaign.

The vote, nonetheless, was still slap in the face for the White House.

"We think now is not the time to send the kind of mixed message that it sends when we are working with our allies to achieve the goals that we believe that are widely shared in Congress: Protecting civilians in Libya, enforcing a no-fly zone, enforcing an arms embargo and further putting pressure on Gadhafi," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

"And the writing is on the wall for Col.Gadhafi, and now is not the time to let up," Carney added.

The last time Congress rejected a President's will to conduct a war came in 1999 when it barred President Bill Clinton from using ground forces to engage Serb troops in Muslim-dominated Kosovo.

Poll: GOP Dovishness on Libya is Just Partisanship

Democratic voters are more supportive of the Libyan air campaign than Republicans, stealing the hawkish pro-military mantle, at least for now, away from the increasingly isolationist GOP, a new survey shows.

Overall, by a margin of 46% to 39% more Americans oppose the NATO-led no-fly zone than support it, reversing the backing that the air campaign had at the outset of the action, a Gallup poll released today indicates.

Americans supported the action 47% to 37% back in March, the survey showed.

Democrats back the Libya action by a margin of 54% to 35%, roughly the same backing Obama's party gave the air campaign at the outset, the polls showed.

Republicans, however, have flipped on their support for the war. In March, the historically hawkish GOP backed the campaign by a margin of 57% to 31%, but those new-found doves now oppose the mission 47% to 39%, Gallup reported.

Independent voters have the most disapproval for the Libya action in the latest poll by a margin of 52% to 31%, but that comes as no surprise since the indies were against the mission at the outset, as well, by a 44%-38% spread.

In its analysis of the poll of 999 adults conducted June 22 Gallup attributed the change of heart in GOP support to partisan politics

"This likely reflects increased criticism of the mission's legality and cost from some Republican congressional leaders and presidential candidates," Gallop analyst Jeffrey Jones  wrote of the survey that has a sampling error of plus or minus of 4%.

The survey comes as the House conducts two show votes today aimed at signaling its disdain for President Obama refusing to abide by the War Powers resolution.

The House action, which would cut spending for the U.S. role in Libya, is mainly theatrics, since the Senate is not expected to follow suit. The Senate is primed to give Obama at least until the end of the year to wrap up the Libya campaign.

The most interesting aspect of the symbolic House opposition to the bombing campaign is the unlikely alliance of conservative Republicans and peacenik Democrats.

IEA: Loss of Libyan Oil Worse Than Katrina

The International Energy Agency defended its decision to put emergency reserves up for sale on the markets, arguing the halt to Libyan oil production was more detrimental than the disruption in the Gulf caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The sharp sell-off of oil stocks and a drop in futures sales yestreday appeared to stabilize today as the markets adjusted to the surprise announcement to release 60 billion barrels of oil, half of which will come from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Richard Jones, the deputy chief of the IEA, told Reuters Insider TV that the loss of 1.5 million barrels a day of oil because of the revolution in Libya comes now at a bad time as refineries go on line for summer production.

"Now we're going into the summer driving season, those refineries which have returned to operation are about to ramp up their production," Jones said.

Skeptics and political detractors, however, accuse the Obama administration of dumping the oil to offset the sticker shock caused by $4 a gallon gasoline at the pumps as motorists face the summer vacation road season.

"The (Strategic Petrolium Reserve) was created to mitigate sudden supply disruptions," said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). "This action threatens our ability to respond to a genuine national security crisis and means we must ultimately find the resources to replenish the reserve – at significant cost to taxpayers."

While U.S. gas prices are forecast to dip at least 20 cents on average, Jones suggested there was no pressure from the Obama administration to release the oil. "All 28 countries were approached with the plan and not one country opposed it," he told Reuters TV.

On another front, the Federal Trade Commission this week announced it will investigate whether U.S. refineries are responsible for the price hikes at the pump the past few months.

Libya or Politics, Selling Oil Reserves Win for Consumers

This is not really a Libya story, though the White House would like it to be.

The surprise move to put on the market 60 million barrels of oil gave the financial markets a boost and will likely help some middle class Americans load up the beach wagon and give their families a vacation after all.

Mostly it left President Obama's political enemies here at home red-faced over the mostly symbolic move -- 60 million barrels would fuel the world for less than a day.

Still, Obama's political detractors know they cannot really attack a program that ultimately is meant to help American consumers. The Democrats would love nothing more than to run ads of Republicans squeaking about how wrong it is to try lower prices at the pumps.

The best the yammerers at Fox could do is bloviate about the need to tap more oil wells, even though U.S. oil fields are more active than they have been in 20 years. So that line of attack is not impressive for the bomb-lobbing reputed house organ of the GOP and Tea Party.

But more importantly, it left OPEC wondering what else the U.S. and the International Energy Agency have up their sleeve to fight back against their price gouging. Iran, which is trying to wrest the de facto seat at the head of the oil cartel away from U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, was out-smarted, at least for a little while. Iran is taking the lead in opposing oil output.

As for the crooked oil marketeers here in the U.S., the Justice Department is looking under every stone for the slimy greed monsters who would stick it to Americans for the sake of profits. Attorney General Eric Holder would love to make an example of a gasoline distributor rip-off artist.

The U.S. and IEA blame the shutdown of Libya's oil production as the biggest reason for flooding the oil markets with the reserves. It will likely be at least a month before Libya's refineries are fired up again and the rebels are able to ship oil.

"We are taking this action in response to the ongoing loss of crude oil due to supply disruptions in Libya and other countries and their impact on the global economic recovery," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said.

Even if it is a bit of a "dog ate my homework" excuse, it will likely take the heat off the cash-strapped middle class Americans and how can anyone in the U.S. complain about that.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Rebels Finally Admit to talks With Gadhafi

After weeks of denying there were ongoing talks with Moammar Gadhafi, the rebel government finally admitted there have been back-channel communications aimed specifically at getting the brutal dictator to step down.

Under the terms set forth by the rebels, Gadhafi and his family would never be able to be involved in government, but there is wiggle room that could allow him to remain in Libya.

Those terms are giving NATO allies heartburn, since they want Gadhafi either dead or to face war crimes charges, a European diplomatic source said a short while ago.

The talks have been held in France and South Africa with the knowledge of President Nicolas Sarkozy and President Jacob Zuma. A White House spokesman declined this afternoon to say whether President Obama was aware of the talks.

For nearly a month Gadhafi government officials have been telling reporters that there are behind-the-scenes talks, but the rebel Transitional National Council has denied it. Now the TNC is coming clean.

"We are engaging in discussion with some people who have contact with people from the regime," Mahmoud Shammam, a member of the executive committee of the rebels' National Transitional Council, told The Los Angeles Times at a conference in Beirut.

The talks, endorsed by Zuma, but not by Sarkozy, focus only on Gadhafi's exit.

"We are contacting them on the mechanism of the departure of Gaddafi. We don't negotiate the future of Libya," Shammam said.

The secret talks held by intermediaries vary in content and "depended on (Gadhafi's) mood," he added, according to The Telegraph of London.

So far the talks have gone nowhere, so NATO continues to bomb targets associated with Gadhafi every day, while the rebel army slowly gains ground of its own.

Gadhafi, meanwhile, broke days of silence overnight, warning in an audio broadcast on Libyan TV that the "second crusader war" war would "extend to Africa, Europe and America."

"Go on and attack us for two years, three years or even 10 years. But in the end, the aggressor is the one who will lose. One day we will be able to retaliate in the same way, and your houses will be legitimate targets for us," Gadhafi added.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen responded on the NATO website that it did not pick this fight, Gadhafi did.

"Remember, the Gadhafi regime began this conflict by attacking its own people with sustained and systematic violence, not NATO," Rasmussen said.

Bipartisan Effort Would Protect State Rights on Marijuana Laws

Updated at 10:45 p.m. edt

Career law enforcement officials today backed the first-ever proposed legislation that would force the feds to respect states that legalize marijuana, declaring government efforts to curb usage and eradicate the cash crop is a big loser.

The group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is just the latest mainstream organization to ask why let drug cartels from places like Mexico and Afghanistan and organized crime rings in the U.S. to get rich from marijuana sales when there is a massive revenue stream just waiting to be taxed by thee state and federal governments.

"Clearly the 'war on drugs' has failed, and nowhere is that more clear than with respect to marijuana. It baffles me that we arrest nearly 800,000 people on marijuana charges in this country each and every year at taxpayer expense when we could instead be taking in new tax revenue from legal and regulated marijuana sales," said Neill Franklin, a former Baltimore narcotics cop and executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

"Making marijuana illegal hasn't prevented anyone from using it, but it has created a huge funding source that funnels billions of dollars in tax-free profits to violent drug cartels and gangs. More and more cops now agree: Legalizing marijuana will improve public safety," Franklin added. 

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition claims career police, prosecutors, judges, federal agents and ocareer among its membership.

end update

A new bipartisan effort launched today in Congress will test who is really for state rights and who is just blowing smoke about the autonomy of governments across the country.

Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Tex.) and other lawmakers co-sponsored legislation today that would force the feds to take the heat off state's that pass laws allowing the personal use of marijuana by adults.

"It's very straight forward. It protects the states," Frank said.

The bill includes allowing the in-state cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana, used by cancer and HIV patients because of its ability to induce people to eat and counter the affects of treatments that cause nausea. It does not legalize marijuana and does not allow  pot to be brought across state lines.

Lawmakers would prefer federal authorities, like the Drug Enforcement Agency, focus on deadly and addictive drugs like crystal meth, cocaine and heroin.  

"We do not believe the federal government should be in the business of prosecuting adults for smoking marijuana. It should be left to the states," Frank said. "There is a scarce availability of (federal) resources."

Formally legal until the laughable "reefer madness" era that primarily painted African Americans and Latinos as drug-crazed pot smokers, marijuana is a cash crop that could pump needed new revenues into government coffers by virtue of applying high taxes to its sale, similar to alcohol and tobacco products.

As of now -- and as it was during the era of alcohol prohibition -- organized crime syndicates are cashing in on the sale of marijuana instead of cash-poor state and federal treasuries. Many marijuana advocates would prefer to see marijuana cultivation and distribution in the hands of small businesses that pay taxes and provide legal jobs.

Advocates hoping to end prohibition on widely used marijuana believe the timing of this bill is right, with more than a dozen states decriminalizing possession of pot. More states are expected to follow suit.

"This bill is being introduced at a perfect time, when public sentiment is shifting solidly against the government's war on marijuana and the failure of prohibition has become undeniable," said Morgan Fox, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project.

"It would remove federal interference from states that are experimenting with more rational marijuana policies and save taxpayers billions of dollars. Thankfully, our elected leaders are catching up to public on this issue, and we should be seeing a lot more discussion about how we can fix our broken laws," Fox added.

Frank admitted it will take time for others in Congress to jump on the bandwagon to end the federal government's failed marijuana prohibition efforts.

"I don't expect it to pass in this Congress... It's an educational progress," Frank said.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Obama: Time to End Afghanistan War & Rebuild US

Full Transcript of President Obama's Speech on the Beginning of the End of the War in Afghanistan as Delivered in the East Room of the White House at 8:01 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT:  Good evening.  Nearly 10 years ago, America suffered the worst attack on our shores since Pearl Harbor.  This mass murder was planned by Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network in Afghanistan, and signaled a new threat to our security –- one in which the targets were no longer soldiers on a battlefield, but innocent men, women and children going about their daily lives. 
In the days that followed, our nation was united as we struck at al Qaeda and routed the Taliban in Afghanistan.  Then, our focus shifted.  A second war was launched in Iraq, and we spent enormous blood and treasure to support a new government there.  By the time I took office, the war in Afghanistan had entered its seventh year.  But al Qaeda’s leaders had escaped into Pakistan and were plotting new attacks, while the Taliban had regrouped and gone on the offensive.  Without a new strategy and decisive action, our military commanders warned that we could face a resurgent al Qaeda and a Taliban taking over large parts of Afghanistan.
For this reason, in one of the most difficult decisions that I’ve made as President, I ordered an additional 30,000 American troops into Afghanistan.  When I announced this surge at West Point, we set clear objectives:  to refocus on al Qaeda, to reverse the Taliban’s momentum, and train Afghan security forces to defend their own country.  I also made it clear that our commitment would not be open-ended, and that we would begin to draw down our forces this July.
Tonight, I can tell you that we are fulfilling that commitment.  Thanks to our extraordinary men and women in uniform, our civilian personnel, and our many coalition partners, we are meeting our goals.  As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point.  After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead.  Our mission will change from combat to support.  By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.
We’re starting this drawdown from a position of strength.  Al Qaeda is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11.  Together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of al Qaeda’s leadership.  And thanks to our intelligence professionals and Special Forces, we killed Osama bin Laden, the only leader that al Qaeda had ever known.  This was a victory for all who have served since 9/11.  One soldier summed it up well.  “The message,” he said, “is we don’t forget.  You will be held accountable, no matter how long it takes.” 
The information that we recovered from bin Laden’s compound shows al Qaeda under enormous strain.  Bin Laden expressed concern that al Qaeda had been unable to effectively replace senior terrorists that had been killed, and that al Qaeda has failed in its effort to portray America as a nation at war with Islam -– thereby draining more widespread support.  Al Qaeda remains dangerous, and we must be vigilant against attacks.  But we have put al Qaeda on a path to defeat, and we will not relent until the job is done.
In Afghanistan, we’ve inflicted serious losses on the Taliban and taken a number of its strongholds.  Along with our surge, our allies also increased their commitments, which helped stabilize more of the country.  Afghan security forces have grown by over 100,000 troops, and in some provinces and municipalities we’ve already begun to transition responsibility for security to the Afghan people.  In the face of violence and intimidation, Afghans are fighting and dying for their country, establishing local police forces, opening markets and schools, creating new opportunities for women and girls, and trying to turn the page on decades of war.
Of course, huge challenges remain.  This is the beginning -- but not the end –- of our effort to wind down this war.  We’ll have to do the hard work of keeping the gains that we’ve made, while we draw down our forces and transition responsibility for security to the Afghan government.  And next May, in Chicago, we will host a summit with our NATO allies and partners to shape the next phase of this transition.
We do know that peace cannot come to a land that has known so much war without a political settlement.  So as we strengthen the Afghan government and security forces, America will join initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban.  Our position on these talks is clear:  They must be led by the Afghan government, and those who want to be a part of a peaceful Afghanistan must break from al Qaeda, abandon violence, and abide by the Afghan constitution.  But, in part because of our military effort, we have reason to believe that progress can be made.
The goal that we seek is achievable, and can be expressed simply:  No safe haven from which al Qaeda or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland or our allies.  We won't try to make Afghanistan a perfect place.  We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely.  That is the responsibility of the Afghan government, which must step up its ability to protect its people, and move from an economy shaped by war to one that can sustain a lasting peace.  What we can do, and will do, is build a partnership with the Afghan people that endures –- one that ensures that we will be able to continue targeting terrorists and supporting a sovereign Afghan government.
Of course, our efforts must also address terrorist safe havens in Pakistan.  No country is more endangered by the presence of violent extremists, which is why we will continue to press Pakistan to expand its participation in securing a more peaceful future for this war-torn region.  We'll work with the Pakistani government to root out the cancer of violent extremism, and we will insist that it keeps its commitments.  For there should be no doubt that so long as I am President, the United States will never tolerate a safe haven for those who aim to kill us.  They cannot elude us, nor escape the justice they deserve. 
My fellow Americans, this has been a difficult decade for our country.  We've learned anew the profound cost of war -- a cost that's been paid by the nearly 4,500 Americans who have given their lives in Iraq, and the over 1,500 who have done so in Afghanistan -– men and women who will not live to enjoy the freedom that they defended.  Thousands more have been wounded. Some have lost limbs on the battlefield, and others still battle the demons that have followed them home.
Yet tonight, we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding.  Fewer of our sons and daughters are serving in harm’s way.  We’ve ended our combat mission in Iraq, with 100,000 American troops already out of that country.  And even as there will be dark days ahead in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance.  These long wars will come to a responsible end.
As they do, we must learn their lessons.  Already this decade of war has caused many to question the nature of America’s engagement around the world.  Some would have America retreat from our responsibility as an anchor of global security, and embrace an isolation that ignores the very real threats that we face.  Others would have America over-extended, confronting every evil that can be found abroad.
We must chart a more centered course.  Like generations before, we must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events.  But we must be as pragmatic as we are passionate; as strategic as we are resolute.  When threatened, we must respond with force –- but when that force can be targeted, we need not deploy large armies overseas.  When innocents are being slaughtered and global security endangered, we don’t have to choose between standing idly by or acting on our own.  Instead, we must rally international action, which we’re doing in Libya, where we do not have a single soldier on the ground, but are supporting allies in protecting the Libyan people and giving them the chance to determine their own destiny.
In all that we do, we must remember that what sets America apart is not solely our power -– it is the principles upon which our union was founded.  We’re a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all our citizens.  We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others.  We stand not for empire, but for self-determination.  That is why we have a stake in the democratic aspirations that are now washing across the Arab world.  We will support those revolutions with fidelity to our ideals, with the power of our example, and with an unwavering belief that all human beings deserve to live with freedom and dignity.
Above all, we are a nation whose strength abroad has been anchored in opportunity for our citizens here at home.  Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times.  Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource –- our people.  We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industries, while living within our means.  We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy.  And most of all, after a decade of passionate debate, we must recapture the common purpose that we shared at the beginning of this time of war.  For our nation draws strength from our differences, and when our union is strong no hill is too steep, no horizon is beyond our reach.
America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.
In this effort, we draw inspiration from our fellow Americans who have sacrificed so much on our behalf.  To our troops, our veterans and their families, I speak for all Americans when I say that we will keep our sacred trust with you, and provide you with the care and benefits and opportunity that you deserve.  
I met some of these patriotic Americans at Fort Campbell.  A while back, I spoke to the 101st Airborne that has fought to turn the tide in Afghanistan, and to the team that took out Osama bin Laden.  Standing in front of a model of bin Laden’s compound, the Navy SEAL who led that effort paid tribute to those who had been lost –- brothers and sisters in arms whose names are now written on bases where our troops stand guard overseas, and on headstones in quiet corners of our country where their memory will never be forgotten.  This officer -- like so many others I’ve met on bases, in Baghdad and Bagram, and at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital -– spoke with humility about how his unit worked together as one, depending on each other, and trusting one another, as a family might do in a time of peril. 
That’s a lesson worth remembering -– that we are all a part of one American family.  Though we have known disagreement and division, we are bound together by the creed that is written into our founding documents, and a conviction that the United States of America is a country that can achieve whatever it sets out to accomplish.  Now, let us finish the work at hand.  Let us responsibly end these wars, and reclaim the American Dream that is at the center of our story.  With confidence in our cause, with faith in our fellow citizens, and with hope in our hearts, let us go about the work of extending the promise of America -– for this generation, and the next. 
May God bless our troops.  And may God bless the United States of America.
                             END           8:16 P.M. EDT

Obama to Begin Withdrawing Troops from Afghanistan

President Obama is set to announce tonight the beginning of the end of the longest war in American history -- the decade-long Afghanistan conflict that came after Al Qaeda struck on Sept. 11, 2001.

Obama is expected to announce troop withdrawals of at least 5,000 personnel at first, and another 5,000 in coming months. By the end of next year, most, if not all of the 30,000 troops representing the surge force Obama sent to Afghanistan will pull out, leaving about 70,000 troops there.

The White House denied reports last night that Obama was still deliberating over the number of troops he plans to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan. "No, (Obama) has made the decision," a senior administration official said last night.

The overseer of the troop drawdown will be CIA director Leon Panetta, who was confirmed in a unanimous vote yesterday in the Senate to replace outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Panetta will take over the top Pentagon post in a couple of weeks.

The war has become hugely unpopular with the American people because of its cost in lives and taxpayer dollars at a time when the Treasury is tapped out, polls repeatedly show.

At least 1,522 members of the U.S. armed forces have died and another 12,002 have been wounded in Afghanistan.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq cost the taxpayers at least $1.3 trillion. The U.S will spend $120 billion in Afghanistan alone this year.

The polls also show many Americans believe the war against the Taliban is not making them any safer at home, especially since Al Qaeda boss Osama Bin Laden was killed this spring by the 20-man SEAL Team Six in Pakistan.

Since President George W. Bush refused to raise taxes to pay for the wars, their costs are blamed for sending the U.S. budget deficit through the roof, decimating the $127 billion surplus President Bill Clinton left when he exited the White House.

The U.S. has a $1.4 trillion deficit and $14.3 trillion national debt.

The war deficit combined with Bush's laissez-faire approach to Wall Street and the banking industry led to the global economic crisis of 2008, which Obama inherited. The American taxpayers were then forced to pay for a massive socialist program to bail out Wall Street and the banks.

At the outset, Washington and most of America was gung-ho for the war, but along with most people in the country, now mayors and even many formerly hawkish Republican federal lawmakers have turned on the wars because of its costs.

The days of Dick Cheney quacking and Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer standing at the podium of the White House briefing room eviscerating the patriotism of anyone who questioned the beat of the war drums in Washington are left to the documentarians and historians to reflect upon.

Liberty and Justice for All Includes Muslim Americans

No matter which race, creed or color, in America we are all in this together, as this video reminds us. The melting pot makes us a great society.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

McCain Tries to Snuff Firestorm Over Illegal Immigrant Remark

Sen. John McCain clarified his incendiary comment that illegal immigrants crossing the Mexican border had set wildfires burning in Arizona. Appearing this morning on NBC's "Today" show, the Arizona Republican said he was not talking about the current fires burning in his home state.

"I was not referring to the Wallow fire," McCain said, adding that he was briefed by U.S. Forest Service officials, who told him illegal immigrants sometimes are responsible for the fires.

"We all know that people who come across our border illegally, according to the Forest Service, according to Border Patrol, according to the local sheriffs and law enforcement agents, [and] that these fires are sometimes, some of them, have been caused by this," McCain said on NBC's morning talk show.

McCain's initial comment on the subject ignited outrage among Hispanic-Americans.

"I'm puzzled over that there should be any controversy since the Forest Service is on record as saying what I just repeated because I had been briefed on that just an hour or so before the press conference that we held," McCain said.

NATO Loses Unmanned Drone Over Libya

NATO lost contact with an "unmanned autonomous helicopter drone" over Libya today, but disputed the Libyan propaganda machine's claims that it was one of the alliance's manned attack helicopters.

"We are looking into the reasons behind the incident," NATO military spokesman Wing Commander Mike Bracken said in the statement.

Libyan state television reported it was one of Britain's Apache attack helicopters that went down, but Bracken said that was not true.

"NATO confirms it has not lost any attack helicopter," Bracken said.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Posturing Congress Likely to Approve Funds for Libya

The House will take up a politically driven bill to cut off funding for the NATO-led air campaign in Libya, but by the time lawmakers are done shadow boxing with themselves they are more likely to approve more money for the rebels -- and here is the rub: It will not be taxpayer dollars.

While an unholy alliance of fiscally conservative Republicans and peacenik Democrats squawk about President Obama's lack of respect for the constitutionally challenged War Powers resolution of 1973, the adults in the Senate will move forward a bill that would allow some of the estimated $30 billion in Moammar Gadhafi's frozen assets to go to the cash-poor Libyan rebels.

The Senate Banking Committee is ready to spring the bill that will help keep the rebel Transitional National Council solvent.

"Under proposed legislation, this assistance could cover the costs of commodities and subsidies needed to maintain basic living conditions among the population—for example, access to water, sanitation, food, shelter, and health care," the State Department said in a statement.

The other member nations of the Contact Group on Libya are trying to slide the rebels some cash, as well, but they have been dragging their feet. The TNC has accused the allies of playing games with their lives by withholding the money it pledged to give them.

Meanwhile, the White House says House Speaker John Boehner's threats to shut down the operation would likely lead to an end to the NATO alliance. The same goes for the lawsuit filed by Boehner's new-found ultra-liberal sidekick, Rep.Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio).

As stated here before on this topic, it is much ado about nothing because even if the measure cleared the House, it would never pass in the Senate, thanks to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) John McCain (R-Ariz.) Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

"At a time when Col. Gadhafi is under great pressure and our allies are bearing a considerable burden of the effort, it would send a bad message to both Gadhafi and to our friends around the world," Carney said. "What we cannot say with precision is which day will be his final day in power. But we do believe his days are numbered."

White House: Talk is Cheap When it Comes From Assad's Mouth

The White House yawned at Syrian President Bashir al-Assad's rambling, delusional hourlong address at Damascus University today, saying the dictator must embrace a transition to democracy "or get out of the way."

"There needs to be concrete action. There needs to be, first and foremost, a cessation of violence against innocent Syrians. There needs to be actual action towards political dialogue so that this transition to a more democratic Syria can take place," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

"What's required in Syria is action, not words, not promises that reform will come in some period in the future, or that dialogue will happen after some review... Hey, look, I'm not saying that words are meaningless, but he needs to act on them. He needs to actually do something to fulfill the sentiment expressed in the desire for dialogue because that needs to happen. But first he needs to stop the violence," Carney added.

Assad promised amnesty, reforms and general good times ahead in a speech that prompted critics to describe the devious despot as delusional, out of touch and merciless.

"Syria’s destiny is to face crises; but it is also its destiny to be proud, strong, resistant and victorious. Its destiny is to come out of crises stronger thanks to the solidarity and cohesion of its society, its deeply rooted values and the determination of its people who are endowed with intelligence, civilization and openness," Assad said.

"It is you who prevented the confusion between the greed and designs of superpowers, on the one hand, and people’s desire for reform and change on the other. It is you who protected the flower of youth from being sacrificed to the greed of international powers. It is you who prevented all attempts of sectarian sedition scrambling at the gates of the homeland and cut off the head of the snake before it could bite the Syrian body and kill it," Assad said.

Critics everywhere shook their heads at the tone-deaf butcher Assad, who ordered the crackdown that has led to an estimated 1,300 death and sent 10,000 refugees to the Turkish border, all but ending an alliance between the Syrian and Turkish governments.

"Assad should clearly and precisely say: 'Everything has changed. We're transforming the system into a multi-party one. Everything will be organised according to the Syrian's people will, and I will be carrying out this process'," Turkish President Abdullah Gul said.

Others were not as polite.

"He’s trying to contain the situation, but it’s helpless," Yoni Ben-Menahem, Israel Radio director and chief editor, told The Jerusalem Post. "No one believes him anymore. He’s slaughtering his people, more than 10,000 refugees – and the massacres are continuing."

Floods Along Missouri & Western Wildfires Uproot Americans

People are hurting here in America -- again.

Authorities are evacuating folks along the Missouri River as floodwaters breach Iowa levees and put a second nuclear power plant in Nebraska on alert, while raging wildfires in Texas and Arizona forced even more Americans to flee their homes.

But in what can only be described as a bizarre blame-game accusation, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) insisted over the weekend and again this morning that some wildfires in Arizona were sparked by illegal immigrants crossing the border from Mexico.

"I was briefed by the Forest Service about the fact that illegal immigrants sometimes start these fires," he said on the "Imus in the Morning" radio show this morning.

McCain did little to back up his claim, other than to cite the The Los Angeles Times, but the newspaper reported today that it did not know what article the lawmaker was referring to on the Imus program.

The Arizona Republic has details of the damage caused by two separate wildfires in its state. 

The Houston Chronicle has a comprehensive rundown today of the fires sweeping through Texas.   

Meanwhile, Cooper Nuclear Station near Brownville, Neb. issued the lowest level alert when floodwaters along the Missouri River reached 42.5 feet, but plant officials claim the public is not at risk and as of now it is unlikely the facility will have to  to shut down.

The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant 20 miles north of Omaha issued the same alert two weeks ago, but it has been off line since April for refueling.

Some towns along the Missouri have been evacuated since heavy rains forced the Army Corps of Engineers to release water upstream to take the pressure off of dams and avoid a larger catastrophe. People are accusing the floods of being a man-made event, but with heavy rains in the forecast the engineers said they had no choice but to release water.

The Associated Press has a report on the flood damage in Iowa and Nebraska.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Gates Says War Powers Doesn't Apply to Libya

Updated at 4:15 p.m. edt

NATO acknowledged a malfunctioning guided missile probably was responsible for the deaths of nine civilians in Tripoli overnight.

"NATO regrets the loss of innocent civilian lives and takes great care in conducting strikes against a regime determined to use violence against its own citizens," NATO commander Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard said in a statement.

"Although we are still determining the specifics of this event, indications are that a weapons system failure may have caused this incident," he added.

The limping Gadhafi regime took advantage of the rare botched bombing, hoping to rile up the divided Tripoli. However, still no sign of the despot-in-hiding Moammar Gadhafi.

end update

Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates was opposed to the no-fly zone over Libya ahead of the NATO air campaign, but today he showed he is in lockstep with President Obama, defending the administration's compliance with the War Powers resolution.

"I believe that President Obama has complied with the law consistent in a manner with virtually all of his predecessors," Gates told the "Fox News Sunday" program.

The highly regarded Pentagon chief, whose distinguished career of public service has included serving in both Republican and Democratic administrations, took the administration's position that the no-fly zone with no U.S. troops on the ground does not amount to hostilities.

Today marks the 90-day deadline for withdrawing forces from Libya under the War Powers resolution of 1973, but since the administration contends that resolution does not apply to Libya, the U.S. will continue to play the key support role in that mission.

"The way I like to put it is, from our standpoint at the Pentagon, we're involved in a limited kinetic operation. If I'm in Gadhafi's palace, I suspect I think I'm at war," Gates said.

Gates' defense of the administration's position came just two days after The New York Times reported it was a split decision among Obama's lawyers on the question of whether the War Powers resolution applies to the no-fly zone over Libya.

Obama, a Harvard Law-educated legal scholar, sided with White House Counsel Robert Bauer and State Department legal adviser Harold Koh, who ruled the U.S. mission in Libya did not amount to "hostilities," and therefore the war Powers resolution does not apply in this case.

Those who argued in favor of the War Powers resolution included Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson and acting head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel Caroline Krass.

As divided lawmakers in Washington argue over the legalistic ramifications of the Libya mission, the Gadhafi regime suggested NATO bombed a home overnight, killing nine civilians. NATO is looking into the claim.

Moammar Gadhafi, meanwhile, continues to hold on to power in Tripoli while hiding from NATO's warplanes.

"NATO will be defeated," Gadhafi said in another telephone call to State Run TV Friday "They will pull out in defeat."

Friday, June 17, 2011

White House: Don't Expect Any Changes on Libya Sunday

The White House will disregard the 90-day troop withdrawal deadline Sunday under the War Powers Resolution, even amid the squawking by some in Congress, including supporters of the NATO-led air campaign targeting Moammar Gadhafi's forces and facilities.

"We’re obviously not changing our position. NATO extended the mission a number of weeks ago by 90 days. We are participants in the NATO mission, and our position is very well known," White House spokesman Jay Carney said today.

"What we have said is that our role in this mission, our support role and the kind of engagement that we have right now, does not meet -- in our legal analysis -- does not meet the threshold set by the War Powers Resolution that requires congressional action," Carney said, repeating the position the administration issued this week.

"I’m not going to speculate about what the Libyan situation will look like in 30, 60, 90 days, or six months, or anything like that. But we are participants in this coalition. NATO has extended the mission to continue to fulfill the goals set forward by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, and we continue to participate in it," he added, using language that had to ease concerns at alliance headquarters in Brussels.

Lawmakers in favor of the Libya action, like Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Dick Durban (D-Ill.), think President Obama is misplaying his hand with Congress.

"Congress alone has the constitutional authority and responsibility to declare war," Durban said today, while pushing for a resolution that would end the role of the U.S. in NATO by the end of the year.

The White House had no immediate comment on Durban's proposal.

"I think that every President has said that they don't respect the constitutionality of the War Powers Act but they've always complied. He should comply with it. There's a lot of ill will here that he went to the Arab League and NATO and the U.N. without coming to Congress," McCain added on Fox News.

"So I think it would be very beneficial if he came to Congress and we pass a resolution that says we approved of not sending ground troops, but not prohibit, because that would be unconstitutional," McCain added.

The President will have a chance to discuss Libya with another critic -- House Speaker John Boehner -- when they play a friendly round of golf this weekend. Boehner, another lawmaker who has gone on the record in support of Libya, has threatened to cut off funding for the mission, even though the White House is paying for it with the existing Pentagon budget.

McCain believes Obama has made more egregious mistakes, but contends "Gadhafi is crumbling and I believe he will go."

"The President has made a mess of this situation by not sending U.S. airpower, by not declaring a no-fly zone when it counted, by not recognizing this Transitional National Council as the legitimate voice to the Libyan people, and a number of other mistakes," McCain said.

Obama does have powerful allies who feel Gadhafi cannot hold on much longer, including the backing of the man who controls what bills are considered in the Senate.

"This thing will be over before we know it," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid told The NewsHour on PBS tonight.

Official: Limping Al Qaeda Actually Moved Quickly on Zawahiri

While swift succession of power is crucial to democratic market societies don't be fooled by the length of time it took for the world's most notorious terror syndicate to name a new boss, a senior U.S. counterterrorism official tells me this morning.

Al Qaeda named Egyptian Amman al-Zawahiri as the next leader yesterday of the fractured terrorist organization nearly seven weeks after Seal Team 6 flew into Pakistan aboard (formerly) secret stealthy helicopters piloted by the Night Stalkers and eliminated Osama Bin Laden.

"Zawahiri in his fifth tape on the revolution in Egypt acknowledged for the first time that Al Qaeda's fight with the Americans meant that he could not react quickly to fast-moving events with speeches offering jihadists his enlightened guidance," the career official explained.

"It was a rare admission of weakness and the successful impact of CIA's drones campaign in Pakistan by Al Qaeda's leadership. Zawahiri actually was able to take the reins of Al Qaeda in six weeks -- much more quickly than I would have expected under the circumstances," the official added, agreeing to discuss the terror organization on the condition of anonymity.

The CIA's eye in the sky has been hunting Al Qaeda operatives from Pakistan to Yemen, two countries that have seen a stepped up drone attacks on known operatives in the terrorist organization. Zawahiri is a prime target.

Another Egyptian, Saif al-Adel, was a name that surfaced as a possible replacement for Bin Laden, but many U.S. officials were skeptical about that from the start.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Google Earth: The Libyan Rebels Radar System

Google apparently has helped the Arab Spring freedom movement with more than just Wael Ghonim, the Google executive-turned-Egyptian revolutionary who helped overturn Hosni Mubarak.

It turns out that the popular Google Earth application that provides pinpoint satellite imagery has become part of a de facto computerized targeting system for the Libyan rebels' artillary and mortars that have been raining down on Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

"This is a very important tool," Mohammad Graisi, a lecturer in genetic engineering who organizes mortar teams, told The Times of London. "They search through binoculars. Let's say there is a treeline with troops in it -- the Google map allows us to work out how far and how many degrees of angle it is for our teams."

The rebels artillery commanders credit an engineer named Ahmed Eyzert, who figured out in March how to calibrate a French mortar-ranging table with the images and data provided by Google Earth. Eyzert was killed in actionh three weeks later.

There are also reports of using IPhone location apps and even video games to help with targeting.

Of course nothing beats the former British SAS special operations spotters on the ground in Libya. Those mercenaries work directly with NATO to coordinate their smart-bomb attacks.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

White House: Fund Rebels with Gadhafi Assets

Updated at 7 p.m. edt

The U.S. has spent $715 million in existing Pentagon funds through June 3 on the Libya mission, the Obama administration said in a dispatch to Congress today.

There are no plans to ask Congress for any special supplemental appropriation for the NATO-led campaign.

Meanwhile, the memo prepared with the help of the Pentagon and State Department confirmed what senior administration officials said earlier: That the Obama administration is complying with the War Powers Resolution and has stepped as part of an international coalition to stop a humanitarian crisis created by Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

"Given the important U.S. interests served by U.S. military operations in Libya and the limited nature, scope and duration of the anticipated actions, the President had constitutional authority, as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive and pursuant to his foreign affairs powers, to direct such limited military operations abroad," the memorandum to Congress states.

"The President is of the view that the current U.S. military operations in Libya are consistent with the War Powers Resolution and do not under that law require further congressional authorization, because U.S. military operations are distinct from the kind of 'hostilities' contemplated by the Resolution’s 60 day termination provision," the administration added in the memo.

End update

The Obama administration is working with members of Congress to try to come up with a way to hand the Libyan rebel's governing council some of the estimated $30 billion in assets seized from Moammar Gadhafi by the U.S. Treasury, administration officials said today.

The administration "would take some of those resources" and put it in the hands of the cash-poor, but eventually oil-rich Libyan Transitional National Council, arguing that those billions belong to the Libyan people, a senior administration said.

"We're actively working closely with Congress on that," the official said.

There is already a move in the Senate gaining steam to use Gadhafi's loot to pay for humanitarian aide in Libya.

The White House said it and European and Arab allies are highly confident that the TNC is a pro-democracy government-in-waiting that is opposed to extremist militant Islamists, like Al Qaeda, dismissing politically charged claims from presidential candidates like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

The White House indicated the rebels are constantly vetted and questioned by the alliance members, including by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.S. envoy in the de facto opposition capital Benghazi.

"We are very familiar with the opposition group," the official said. "It has made positive statements about its commitment to democracy."

The disclosure came as President Obama sent an update on the air war in Libya that some in Congress have demanded.

"This operation has achieved a good deal in just over two months," a senior administration said. "We see cracks in the regime."

The White House also made a spirited defense of its handling of the the military response to the humanitarian crisis, saying it has upheld the War Powers Resolution and will not have to ask Congress for any additional money to pay for the campaign.

There are no boots on the ground, the U.S. stepped in to prevent a further humanitarian crisis and more killings under Gadhafi's orders, and it is a support roll only for the American military, the White House will argue in a report expected to be released shortly.

"We are providing a support role," the official said, noting the White House has provided Congress with regular updates in private briefings and testimony at hearings. "We have not asked Congress for a supplemental (funding)... and have no plans to," the official said.

In a sign that there is no real threat that Congress has the will to wend the U.S. role in Libya, some conservatives like Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) and ultra liberals like Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) instead turned to the courts today, suing the Obama administration in federal court today. They argued the Executive Branch is usurping the constitutionality backed War Powers Resolution of 1973.

“With regard to the war in Libya, we believe that the law was violated. We have asked the courts to move to protect the American people from the results of these illegal policies,” said Kucinich.

White House aides were confident it would counter the charges in the courts, stopping short of calling it a frivolous lawsuit.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

White House tells Congress to Chill on Libya

There is arguably nothing more dangerous to American forces in the field then when the civilian politicians start playing politics with their lives -- and in a very polite way that is what some folks accused House Speaker John Boehner of doing today with the war in Libya.

Boehner (R-Ohio) has gone on the record with his support for the the Libyan mission, yet still sent Obama a letter today, arguing that after Sunday the President will be in violation of the War Powers Act of 1973.

"Either you have concluded the War Powers Resolution does not apply to the mission in Libya or you have determined the War Powers Resolution is contrary to the Constitution," Boehner wrote. "The House and the American people whom we represent deserve to know the determination you have made."

The letter was taken for political grandstanding by the White House, which has provided nearly three dozens closed-door briefings and public testimony at several Capitol Hill briefings on Libya. An update on Libya for Congress is expected before Sunday.

“We are in the final stages of preparing extensive information for the House and Senate that will address a whole host of issues about our ongoing efforts in Libya, including those raised in the House resolution as well as our legal analysis with regard to the War Powers Resolution," said White Hiouse national security spokesman Tommy Vietor.

"Since March 1st, administration witnesses have testified at over 10 hearings that included a substantial discussion of Libya and participated in over 30 Member or staff briefings, and we will continue to consult with our congressional colleagues,” Vietor added.

Appearing on CNN's "Situation Room," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a staunch supporter of the NATO-led Libyan air campaign, politely dismissed the grumbling in Congress as unnecessary and irrelevant.

Obama insists contingency money is in the budget for the Libya campaign, but privately sources close to Obama say he wants to see Gadhafi toppled as soon as possible. Obama is, however, convinced he is on the morally correct side of history on this campaign -- and is even more resolute that Gadhafi will go, or he will go down.

Canada to Recognize Rebels as Siege is Broken in Misurata

Updated 11 p.m. edt

NATO warplanes returned to the skies over Tripoli this evening while the rebel force's main army in the east moved on Moammar Gadhafi's thinly stretched forces in the oil patch town of Brega -- a region that has gone back and forth between both sides in three months of fighting.

Libyan TV reported that NATO bombed at least two areas around Tripoli, as the rebels also moved on two other fronts. Rebel brigades in Misurata moved a couple of miles closer to Zlitan (see below), while a third opposition force captured the town of Kikla 90 miles southwest of Tripoli, Reuters reported.

In an unsual twist of fate, one of the best-preserved antiquities left behind by the Roman Empire may be at risk of attack, CNN first reported. There is concern that Roman ruins at the site of the ancient city of Leptis Magna in Libya are being used to store Gadhafi's weapons, as the rebels have claimed, Salon writes.

NATO has refused to rule out bombing the site, if necessary, Time blogs.

In Ottawa, the Canadian parliament late today extended its commitment to the combat in Libya for another three months, as expected, The Montreal Gazette reports.

Meanwhile, a few friends at Code Pink are still hoping Gadhafi and his record of human rights violations against his own people can be stopped with a drum circle and a few boxes of Ben & Jerry's Peace Pops (So do I, but unfortunately prayers have not worked).

end update

Canada will become the latest western nation to recognize the rebel Transitional National Council as the legitimate government of Libya in a stepped up diplomatic offensive that includes the U.S. pressuring the African Union to sever its relationship with the well-hidden Moammar Gadhafi.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Ottawa will join France, Spain, Italy, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in formally recognizing the rebel government. The U.S., Germany and Turkey, among others, are waiting for Gadhafi to fall before they make a move toward recognizing the council.

With Russia and China already doing an about-face on Gadhafi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the African Union, Gadhafi's only viable if not nominal ally, to renounce the friendless dictator and expel any diplomats from their countries who remain loyal to him. Gadhafi has pumped millions of dollars into the AU, often at the expense of the needs of his own people.

Those checks are no longer in the mail, Clinton explained.

"I urge all African states to call for a genuine ceasefire and to call for Qadhafi to step aside. I also urge you to suspend the operations of Gadhafi’s embassies in your countries, to expel pro-Gadhafi diplomats, and to increase contact and support for the Transitional National Council," Clinton told the 53-member African Union during a stop in Ethiopia.

"Your words and your actions could make the difference in bringing this situation to finally close and allowing the people of Libya, on an inclusive basis, in a unified Libya, to get to work writing a constitution and rebuilding their country. The world needs the African Union to lead," she added.

Some Western governments are getting antsy about the costs and length of the British- and French-led NATO air campaign, but are committing to spending at least the summer to put heavy fire down on Gadhafi forces and installations.

The hope is the defiant Gadhafi will go or be overthrown much sooner than the recently extended September deadline for the mission.

"We are conducting this operation with all the means we have, and the best we can. If the operation were to last long, of course, the resource issue will become critical," NATO Gen. Stephane Abrial said at a NATO conference in Belgrade.

"But at this stage, the forces engaged do have the means to necessary conduct the operation. If additional resources are needed this will be a political decision. I am confident that this operation will be successful in implementing the UN Security Council resolution," Abrial added.

But NATO also has sent some mixed signals to the rebels themselves, asking them to hold their ground in Misurata instead of pushing westward toward Tripoli. More than 100 rebels and civilians have been killed during Gadhafi's latest siege of Misurata.

NATO aircraft have been missing in action for most of the weeklong siege, though they have been dropping leaflets overnight on the outskirts of Zlitan, warning that anyone who can read the leaflet is probably about to die.

Frustrated and worried they are sitting ducks in Misurata without NATO air cover, a rebel brigade broke through Gadhafi's siege forces to the west of Misurata and were moving slowly toward Zlitan, but despite being outgunned are making progress.

Gadhafi's elite 32nd Brigade is based and the rebels hope people there will rise up from inside the city before the battle is joined.

The rebels were stymied by a rocket attack yesterday on fuel tanks at a depot in Misurata, but were scrambling to get gasoline from alternative sites.

Rebels quickly bolted from their new frontline positions when they picked up the leaflets and realized NATO thought they were Gadhafi troops, fearing they would come under fire from allaince warplanes and attack helicopters.

Libyans, meanwhile, have risen up west and south of Tripoli, making it difficult to Gadhafi to get supplies through the few routes he has left.

At any other time it would be seen as a successful campaign, given how quickly Gadhafi forces were depleted and unable to counter the NATO warplanes. But with the other wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still draining the American treasury, President Obama is under pressure from a minority of U.S. lawmakers to explain where he envisions that the mission is going. An even smaller minority wants the U.S. to pull out of Libya immediately.

House Speaker John Boehner, who supports the Libyan mission, nonetheless sent Obama a letter today, arguing that after Sunday he will be in violation of the War Powers Act of 1973.

"Either you have concluded the War Powers Resolution does not apply to the mission in Libya or you have determined the War Powers Resolution is contrary to the Constitution," Boehner wrote. "The House and the American people whom we represent deserve to know the determination you have made."

Obama insists contingency money is in the budget for the Libya campaign, but privately sources close to Obama say he wants to see Gadhafi toppled as soon as possible. Obama is, however, convinced he is on the morally correct side of history on this campaign -- and is even more resolute that Gadhafi will go, or he will go down.

Britain, meanwhile, may have to move some assets away from the Afghan war if the Libya mission is not concluded by September. "If we do it longer than six months, we will have to reprioritize forces," said Adm. Mark Stanhope, Britain's top naval officer.